While the South Western Railway (SWR) has said that overshooting of the red signal at Makajipalli, just before Penukonda in Andhra Pradesh, by the Hampi Express loco pilot had caused the Tuesday morning's accident, the pilot fraternity has been quick to attribute this to unfamiliarity with the route and extended working hours.
The SWR has said that the pilot should have stopped before the Makajipalli signal, and called home signal, as the Nanded-Bangalore Express coming from Sathyasai Prasanthi Nilayam and proceeding towards Bangalore was given the green signal to pass through Penukonda junction. Ignoring this signal, Hampi Express moved ahead and collided with the goods train.
However, the All-India Loco Running Staff Association (AILRSA) and loco pilots responded to the Railway's claim with the argument that the accident occurred as the pilot was unfamiliar with the route. A loco pilot from Guntakal said Hampi Express was being driven by Passenger Loco Pilot Y. Rathnam and Assistant Loco Pilot Balaraju from his depot, both of whom are now in hospital.
However, AILRSA president L. Mony said pilots from Guntakal Division have to operate trains in six directions — Bangalore, Solapur, Guntakal, Hubli, Renigunta and Secunderabad. Similarly, Bangalore loco pilots have to work on trains towards Guntakal, Arsikere, Mysore, Erode and Chennai. Consequently, a pilot works in a particular direction once in 30 or 40 days and his ‘road learning' (route knowledge) will be limited.
The Railways, instead of filling 17,000 vacancies out of 60,000 posts of loco pilots, has extended the working hours of loco pilots beyond Railway divisions, and without giving adequate breaks. The pilots were earlier driving within their division and had greater route learning experience. The inter-divisional working has reduced the route learning of loco pilots and particularly during nights, such ignorance proves too costly, said a loco pilot with 20 years of experience. He also said Hampi Express's engine (WDP4), a front hood engine, offers limited visibility to the pilot as his cabin is situated at the rear of the engine.
Also, a pilot from Guntakal approaching Penukonda first gets to see the signal on the Sathyasai Prasanthi Nilayam–Bangalore line before seeing the signal on Guntakal-Bangalore line.
Before blaming the pilots, the authorities should have examined all the reasons for the mishap. Apart from unscientific location of signals and exhaustive working hours, the points at the station (lines to receive oncoming trains) should be set towards unoccupied lines. However, in the case of Hampi Express, the points were set towards the line occupied by the goods train, he said.
Mr. Mony also said that the Railways has been forcing pilots to continuously work for more than eight hours a day despite the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Railway's recommendations of eight hours of work. They are not given proper weekly offs and adequate rest before starting duty, he added.